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Friday, November 30, 2007

A Late, Mid-Fest "Preview"

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
--R. Burns, 1875
I promised you joy--or at least reports of the joy in which I delighted on Wednesday night, when offered the chance to sample ten of the Holiday Ale Fest's finest beers. A day late and a dollar short; well, sometimes you get what you pay for.

In any case, I herewith offer my findings--along with thanks to Preston Weesner, host of the sampling as well as the fest, who busted out the good stuff for our pleasure. I will report these in the order they were offered, just for the sake of fairness. (I encourage you not to save Jim for last, however--get it early and get it often, for another chance you will not have.) One note: the beers came out of the keg icy cold, and the tent had not yet been fully appointed with those nice heaters, so it stayed cold. This affected many of the samples, concealing what I could intuit were layers of complexity.

Hallucinator, Collaborator Project (Widmer)
The aroma was strangely similar to malt liquor, a smell that transported me back to 1987. Fortunately, the beer was far nicer. An old ale that draws inspiration from the muscular doppelbock style, it has the nice fruitness of an ale, but a woody maltiness of doppel. In very nice balance, and easy to drink, but it could use another month to mature. (A year it would make it exquisite.) 7.5% ABV
Drink it if...
you're looking for a smooth, warming beer. Not a hop-lover's delight, but a good beer to start with; it'll loosen your joints without wrecking your palate.

O'Holy Hops, Max's Fanno Creek
How do you make an Imperial IPA wintry? Deploy hops that impart a piney, green quality. The nose of this beer, even ice cold, tells you something tasty's coming. But what it can't tell you is that the hops seem almost mentholated. Chris, from Belmont Station, called them "minty." Despite the strength, it is not an overly intense beer. Will be wildly popular. 8.5% ABV
Drink it if...
you love hops. Of the ten we tried, this was the pinnacle of hop expression--with aroma, flavor, and bitterness that will leave hop-heads smacking their lips for more.

Smoked Porter, Alaskan
This is really a world classic. Even if you enjoy it every year, it's hard to pass up--and if you've never had it, put this porter at the top of your list. Malts are hand-smoked over an alder fire, and you'll be amazed how "salmony" it tastes. It's not the fish that makes it salmony, but the alder. The porter is thick and rich--a perfect winter ale. 6.5% ABV
Drink it if...
you like dark beers. The smoking is intense, and I imagine that some people will find it difficult to reconcile this note with what they think of as "beer." But this is beer practiced old-school, like they did in the days before commercial malting.

Oak-aged Jubelale, Deschutes
You know I love me the Deschutes. I praise each offering shamelessly. But even as Brett Favre can get injured, so Deschutes can offer an indifferent beer. I can't understand why, either--it was aged in wine barrels for two months, then blended with Bachelor Bitter, one of the brewery's best beers (5 parts to one), and then dry-hopped with East Kent Goldings, my favorite hops. I found it too sweet on the front end, with a bright candy note, and too sharp at the back end. Could be it just needs some more aging. 6.7% ABV
Drink it if...
you are one of the legion who adore Deschutes. They did so much to make this beer special that you almost half to ignore my comments and give it a try. Plus, the only other place to get it is Bend.

Oak-aged Tannen Bomb, Golden Valley
The regular Tannen Bomb recipe was aged in a pinot barrel for 30 days. Always gentle (it's a stealth beer upon which the uncareful drinker can get bombed), this is, if anything, gentler. The grape notes are clear and sweet, and it seems to thin out the palate. It may take some color from the grapes, too. (Chris called it "polished mahogany.") Warm it up and let the flavors come out. 8.5% ABV
Drink it if...
you like sweeter, gentler ales. This one has plenty of alcohol heft, but it is silky smooth--the hot toddy of winter ales.

Backdraft IPA, Wildfire Brewing (Bend)
Backdraft is a pretty standard interpretation of the IPA style--hops out front, with a nice aroma, fairly complex flavor, and sharp bitterness. It's a bit out of balance, but in exactly the way Oregon hop-heads appreciate. 6.5% ABV
Drink it if...
you want to try a beer from this new Bend brewery. If you like standard IPAs, you'll like it. But with 41 taps pouring, you might find it hard to justify squeezing into your rotation.

Scaldis Noel, Brasserie Dubuisson (Belgium)
After 237 years, a brewery start to work the kinks out. This is one of two or three beers that's regarded as de rigueur for a beer geek Christmas. Extraordinary--a smoky, layered, rich, and mature beer that seems to have those 2+ centuries of wisdom blended in. It's very strong, but you hardly notice it--this is like mother's milk. 12% ABV
Drink it if...
you want to see how Oregon brewing fares alongside world standards. It sells for $5 an 8-ounce bottle, if you can even get it (the shipment sent to the fest is larger than the entire annual allocation for distribution in Portland), so consider it a great opportunity even if (as I suspect) you have to pay extra.

Baltic Porter, Cascade Brewing/Raccoon Lodge
I posted a description of this beer yesterday--and it's worth reviewing just to see what all went into this beer. Let's start at the top: forget Baltic Porter. I don't blame the brewery for picking a name at random to assign to this unique beer, but if you go looking for Black Boss, you'll think they poured from the wrong tap. It has a cherry nose, and is predominantly sweet, cherry-chocolate on the palate. There is a sour note, darker malt notes, notes I don't even know how to describe. Quite a thing. 9% ABV
Drink it if...
you like your beers funky and style-bending. They wouldn't let this beer into Germany, but they might throw a festival for it in Belgium.

Red Wheatwine, Fort George Brewery (Astoria)
As wheatwines are wont, this is a subtle, warming beer that should be tasted early. We did not and I couldn't appreciate it. I mention it only for historical purposes. 8.8% ABV
Drink it if...
you'd like to tell me what it actually tastes like.

Jim II, Hair of the Dog
Preston reminisced about Jim Kennedy as he introduced this beer, which includes some of Jim's favorites mixed in (brewer Alan Sprints describes it here). Sprints is the Merlin of American brewing--his beers seem more like potions than potables. Jim II is to beer like white dwarfs are to stars; matter condensed. There's a little-known Indian epic called the Kathasaritsagara, which means the "Ocean of the Sea of Stories." In this way, Jim II is the Ocean of the Sea of Beers--if you pay close enough attention, you'll taste every note known to humans: sweet, smoky, dry, alcoholic, apricot, orange, chocolate, leather ... after that I quit writing. 8% ABV
Drink it if...
you live and breathe. Fortunately, it should be a little easier to get this year--Alan made four times as much. Still, don't take any chances. Get a taster immediately.
Yesterday, I mentioned that there were two sublime, absolutely-can't-miss-these-beers of the ones we were offered in this tasting. In case it wasn't clear in the description, I was referring to Jim II and the Baltic Porter. Add Alaskan Smoked Porter and Scaldis Noel to the list if you've never tried them. And once more, here are the details--
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Thurs-Sat: 11a to 10:00p
Sunday: 11a to 6p
The traditional plastic fest mug is $5; a taster is $1 and a full pour $4.
Feel encouraged to use the coments to report back any amazing must-try beers you discovered--we must pool our knowledge so as to not miss the jewels.

1 comment:

  1. "polished mahogany"...guess that's better than "mahogany polish"